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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes: What we’re watching for

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Kicking off conference play with a bitter rivalry game is one thing. Doing so following a bitter loss in the non-conference finale is another. 

That’s what the Wisconsin Badgers face as they go to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes this Saturday night. 

What could this matchup hinge on? We’re going to be watching for a few key things to tell us how this game is going to go. 

Badgers O-Line vs. Iowa D-Line

It’s true, one could likely put this as a thing to watch every year between these mirror image programs. But, in 2018 and following a loss in which the Badgers offensive line played far below expectations, this is going to be a tell-tale sign of how things are going to go on Saturday night. 

Winning the battle up front is normally a big deal, but in this contest it truly will be be the difference between a win or loss. UW’s O-Line has to show up in a way it really hasn’t so far this season — against the pass rush.

Iowa comes in to this game with 12 sacks as a team, second-most in the Big Ten behind Penn State’s 13. The Hawkeyes starting defensive line has proven to do most of that damage, with end A.J. Epenesa racking up four sacks already. Anthony and Matt Nelson have a sack each and Parker Hesse has two to his name. That’s a total of eight of the 12 sacks Iowa has put up. 

UW’s offensive line has given up six sacks on the season along, which is tied for 10th early on the season. 

You can bet this is going to be a huge point of emphasis for the Badgers offensive line and winning it could mean winning the game. 

Iowa’s Run Game

One of Wisconsin’s strongest points to its defensive success as of late has been its ability to make offenses one-dimensional. Relying on the pass game is something that usually hasn’t ended well for opponents. 

However, early on this year the Badgers defense has had trouble containing the run game of opponents.

New Mexico caught the Badgers off guard with a variation of the option offense in the first half of its Week 2 matchup before settling in and allowing just 77 yards on the ground. Last week saw BYU run consistently against the Badgers defensive group, racking up 191 yards as a team in the win. 

It’s led to Wisconsin ranking just eighth against the run in the Big Ten, allowing opponents to put up 130.6 yards per game on the ground. 

Iowa is looking to establish a run game behind Monona Grove product Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin. The early results suggest that is a work in progress to say the least. 

So far this year, the Hawkeyes are averaging 173.6 yards per carry. That may seem high, but given the opponents played they rank just 11th in the Big Ten. Young leads Iowa in rushing, but his 234 yards on the ground is only good for 12th individually in the conference. 

Wisconsin can’t let the Iowa’s mediocre run game get going and expect to win. Let’s see if UW can learn from the film Iowa State put up, allowing just 105 yards on the ground in a defensive slug fest two weeks ago. 

Can Hornibrook Break Out?

It seems like this is a weekly wish for Badgers fans, and rightfully so. He’s teased us with greatness at various points in his career, but he’s never been able to harness that greatness on a consistent level. 

Any hopes of that happening in 2018 seem to have diminished already. It’s easy to see why when you compare his numbers last season to this season — they are eerily similar. 

Take a look for yourself: 

Courtesy GoIowaAwesome

Yes, you can point to Hornibrook being unlucky to have one of those two interceptions counting against him, but the numbers are what they are and once again we’re seeing a QB that’s efficient when he has to be, but is far from spectacular more often than not. 

After an opener in which he put up 257 yards, Hornibrook hasn’t topped the 200-yard mark in either of the next two games. Sure, he wasn’t counted on much (just 11 attempts) against New Mexico, but he went just 18 of 28 and averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt with 190 yards and no touchdowns against BYU last weekend.

If that doesn’t sound like inconsistent football, I don’t know what will from a quarterback. 

If ever there was a game for the junior to get back to that level he showed us in the Orange Bowl, this would be a perfect time to do it. 

We’ll keep hope alive for a bit longer, but at some point we’ve got to see him turning the corner to believe this team can get to the level needed to compete nationally. 

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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3 Badgers named first team All-American’s by Pro Football Focus

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Quibble all you want with last week’s announcement of the Big Ten’s all-conference selections and award winners. Those lists are completely subjective based on the thoughts of media and coaches. 

Give me numbers, facts and figures baby. 

That’s where Pro Football Focus steps up to the plate, grading out players based on performance metrics for every snap of the season. With all that analysis done, the team at PFF has put out its 2018 All-American and All-Big Ten offense and defensive teams. 

Wisconsin got three players named first team All-American in running back Jonathan Taylor and offensive linemen Beau Benzschawel and Tyler Biadasz. Fellow offensive lineman Michael Deiter was named Honorable Mention All-American. 

However, those weren’t the only honors garnered by the Badgers from PFF. 

Wisconsin was heavily represented on the offensive side, with four players earning first-team honors. Running back Jonathan Taylor was joined by offensive linemen Cole Van Lanen, Beau Benzschawel and Tyler Biadasz. 

PFF also came strong in backing up their selections. 

Here is what they had to say about each of the Badgers on offense: 

Jonathan Taylor — “Taylor averaged an outstanding 4.2 yards after contact this season and forced 58 missed tackles, leading the nation by almost 300 yards in total rushing yards. His 1,175 yards after contact were more than all but 14 other running backs had total rushing yards this season.”

Cole Van Lanen — “Van Lanen surrendered just two sacks and one hit on 212 pass-blocking reps in 2018.”

Beau Benzschawel — “Benzschawel anchored the Badgers line with Biadasz as he allowed just seven QB pressures on 328 snaps in pass protection. His 83.8 run-blocking grade was 2.0 points higher than the next closest and second only to Prescod among guards.”

Tyler Biadasz — “While his pass-blocking grades rank in the top half of all centers this season, Biadasz did his best work in the run game. His 83.7 run-blocking grade was the best among all centers.”

UW also had a few players on offense make the PFF second team in tight end Jake Ferguson and guard Michael Deiter, who actually won the Big Ten’s Offensive Lineman of the Year last week.

Meanwhile, on defense, only senior linebacker T.J. Edwards made the first team. 

Here’s what PFF had to say about his final season in a Badgers uniform: 

T.J. Edwards — Edwards tallied an impressive 51 run stops in 2018, 13 of which were recorded for either a loss or no gain.

Fellow inside linebacker Ryan Connelly made the second team and rounded out the All-Big Ten selections from Pro Football Focus. 

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Wisconsin Badgers 2018 season review: The good, the bad and the ugly

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Yes, the Wisconsin Badgers still have one game remaining in the season, but that one game isn’t going to make or break how we see the 2018 season for the Cardinal and White. 

As we move on towards the bowl game and try to get over the fact that Paul Bunyan’s Axe is no longer in the Badgers trophy case, it’s also time for us to reflect back on the season as a whole. 

Over the next few weeks we’ll give various looks in to the 2018 season. That starts today with a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of the season that was. 

Of course, before we get there we have to acknowledge that this season on the whole was a bitter disappointment. Going from one of the top teams in the country to 7-5, not winning the Big Ten West division and losing to bitter rival Minnesota to close out the season was not how anyone believed this season would go. 

If anything, the 2018 season is a cautionary tale in believing that one game makes or breaks the reality for a team. It seems that many bought in to UW’s performance against Miami in the Orange Bowl last season as a sign that this team was turning a real corner as a program. 

Clearly that didn’t happen, but what did happen in 2018 to get us where we are today? 

The Good

Two words, one player — Jonathan Taylor. 

It’s scary to think of how the 2018 season would have gone without him leading the way for the Badgers offense. Taylor followed up a stellar freshman season with another record-setting year for the Badgers. 

So far this season, Taylor has racked up 1,986 yards and is very likely to top 2,000 yards when the Badgers play whatever bowl game they’ll end up in. His combined two-year total yardage is the best for anyone in FBS history and he finished the year averaging over 24 yards more per game than the next best number on the year. Oh, and he bested the next best rushing total in the Big Ten by a measly 800 yards

Wisconsin’s run game accounted for 268.4 of the 433.2 yards per game on the year. Taylor accounted for an average of 165.7 of those 433.2 yards per game, otherwise known as 38.2 percent of the teams total yards in a game. 

Of course, Taylor wasn’t the only one that got their jobs done well in the run game. UW’s offensive line was impressive, continuing to maul and wear down opposition defenses time and again. 

By the end of the season, four of the Badgers starters were named All-Big Ten first team selections and senior guard Michael Deiter was the Big Ten’s Offensive Lineman of the Year. 

It was arguably one of the best rushing seasons in program history and the best per-game average of any Badgers team since 2014 to put it all in perspective. 

The Bad

This one is easy — injuries. 

Wisconsin’s defense started the season behind the eight ball with a pair of devastating injuries to expected defensive end starters in Garrett Rand and Isaaiah Loudermilk and it just snowballed from there. 

Rand missed the entire season with a torn Achilles tendon, while Loudermilk struggled to get consistent playing time thanks to his injury nagging him on and off all season. As it was, he played in just eight games on the year and racked up just 14 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack and 2 pass break ups in those eight games. 

The injury bug bit both Andrew Van Ginkel and Zack Baun at outside linebacker, as they both picked up nagging injuries early on in the season. Neither of them hit their stride until near mid season and UW’s defense came along nicely after their return.

But, that didn’t last long as the Badgers secondary then got the injury bug too. Scott Nelson and D’Cota Dixon missed games and that led to freshman Reggie Pearson getting a start, only to see himself get injured. 

UW’s cornerback depth nearly ran on empty at points this season as a myriad of injuries were racked up by the young group. Yes, Madison Cone played all 12 games and Faion Hicks played in 11, but literally no one was able to go all season without missing plays due to injury. 

Names like Travian Blaylock and Alexander Smith, who weren’t expected to be contributors at all got in four and three games respectively this season, largely because UW had no other choice at times given in-game injury situations.  

In fact, eight of UW’s 10 cornerbacks on the roster saw game action as a cornerback (and not just on special teams) this season. Only walk-ons Cristian Volpentesta and Kobe Knaak failed to make an appearance on the stat sheet this year. 

Wisconsin came in to the season young and inexperienced in the secondary and up front as well. What it found out is that the combination of young, inexperienced and injury-prone wasn’t a fun one. Depth is great, but it only extends so far and the Badgers extended it to their extremes on the defensive side of the ball in 2018. 

The Ugly

Nothing was more ugly for this Badgers team than quarterback play. Arguably, the biggest reason for optimism heading in to 2018 came from the way Alex Hornibrook played in the Orange Bowl win. With UW’s run game bottled up at times, it was Hornibrook that really led the way in the win. He was on time with his passes, threw the ball with real zip and played with complete confidence. 

But, the cautionary tale of the 2017 season was that the Orange Bowl was an outlier to the rest of Hornibrook’s season. Would that one game be the catalyst for change or would it be more of the same. 

The answer was clearly more of the same and that didn’t bode well for a Badgers team that needed to challenge defenses with more than just a powerful run game. 

Hornibrook completed less than 60 percent of his passes and threw nearly as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (13) for the second straight year. 

He also went down with two concussions in a three game span and that gave sophomore quarterback Jack Coan a golden opportunity. He didn’t take advantage of it at all, albeit against some really stiff competition — Northwestern and Penn State. Coan finished the year completing 61 percent of his passes for just 442 yards and 4 touchdowns to 2 interceptions. There was a 60-yard performance in a start at Penn State. 

Simply put, no one stepped at the quarterback position and without that happening, the Badgers were so one-dimensional that it made it easy for teams to tee-off on defense. 

Wisconsin has to go back to the drawing board at quarterback this offseason if it really wants to become a national contender. What they got from Coan and more importantly, Hornibrook, was completely unacceptable. 

Perhaps the biggest offseason question has to be if the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the country, Graham Mertz, can come in and take the job by the horns. If not, it’s hard to see how the Badgers are more competitive on offense next season. 

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Badgers chopped down by Gophers 37-15

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All good things must come to an end. 

For the Wisconsin Badgers that meant a 14-game win streak over the rival Minnesota Gophers, who took down the Badgers 37-15 on Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium. 

Not only did the Gophers end the 14-game win streak by the Badgers, it was also the first win by Minnesota in Madison since 1994 and the worst loss by the Badgers at home to the Gophers since 1934’s 34-0 loss. 

The Gophers used all three phases of the game to dominate the scoreboard. They turned four Badgers turnovers in to 24 points, got a punt return for a touchdown and scored twice on offense as well. 

Wisconsin native Emmit Carpenter was the star of the day for Minnesota, as the kicker knocked home three field goals to extend the game out of reach for UW. He hit from 34, 23 and a long of 42 yards in the win. 

Alex Hornibrook returned as the Badgers starting quarterback and turned in a forgettable performance. While he was 22 of 33, he had just 189 yards and threw three interceptions, fumbled the ball once and a pair of touchdowns. 

Badgers star running back Jonathan Taylor was held to just 120 yards on only 19 carries in the loss. He did top the 2,000-yard mark for the season in the loss. 

Minnesota countered with a team effort on the ground, rushing for 201 yards as a team. Mohamed Ibrahim had 121 of those yards and a touchdown, while Bryce Williams had 50 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. 

The opening drive of the game proved to be a microcosm of the whole day for Wisconsin.  

UW drove deep in to Minnesota territory on that drive, but stalled out at the 13-yard line. Rafael Gaglianone pushed the short field goal attempt wide right and a productive drive came up empty. 

The Gophers drove right back on the Badgers, but also stalled out deep in opposition territory. Unlike the Badgers, Minnesota’s Emmit Carpenter knocked home his short field goal attempt for a 3-0 lead. 

Scoring was at a premium in the first half, but it was all Minnesota on the scoreboard. After trading punts for awhile, the Gophers got the first touchdown of the game on a 4th and 1 with 2:21 to play in the second quarter. 

Wisconsin couldn’t get anything going in a quick three-and-out possession, and on the ensuing punt the Gophers extended their lead to 17-0. Demetrius Douglas took the punt back 69 yards and it appeared all the momentum was on the Gophers side. 

But, that touchdown finally woke the Badgers up from their first-half slumber. Hornibrook lead a huge drive in the two-minute drill and hooked up with his favorite target — Jake Ferugson — for a 7-yard touchdown with one second remaining in the first half. 

Minnesota lead was cut to 17-7 at the half, despite being outplayed on the stat sheet in the half. UW actually led almost every statistical category in the first half, but it didn’t matter on the scoreboard. 

The Badgers led in passing yards (119-98), rushing (84-49), total yards (203-147) and had the ball for 16:36 of the half. 

Wisconsin has been known as a second half team, but they just never got it going out of the intermission and Minnesota proved to be the team that responded most out of the half. 

A pair of Carpenter field goals had the game at 23-7 to end the third quarter, but UW still had some hope thanks to stalled drives by the Gophers. 

Stalled drives were the story of the game for Wisconsin and following another one early in the fourth quarter Minnesota put the final nail in the coffin in very Badger-like fashion. 

The Gophers theoretically put the game away with a methodical 15-play, 55-yard drive that ate up 9:16 off the clock. It was the longest drive of the season for Minnesota. However, it also ended with Carpenter missing a short 28-yard field goal to keep the score at 23-7. 

However, the real final nail in the coffin would come on a series of two plays following that drive. Hornibrook turned the ball over for the third time on the game, getting stripped as the tried to avoid a sack and watching Minnesota fall on the ball. 

Bryce Williams took the next play off tackle for a 29-yard touchdown run and a 30-7 lead with 4:56 to go in the game. 

Hornibrook’s horrible night continued on the next possession as he threw his third interception on the night. Williams took a carry off right tackle from 16 yards out to make it 37-7 with 2:31 left to play. 

A garbage time touchdown from Hornibrook to Danny Davis from 13 yards out and a two-point conversion gave us the final 37-15 scoreline. 

Wisconsin will await its bowl pairing, which won’t come until after next week’s conference championship games go down. Expect the Badgers to be playing in either California or New York at this point. 

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Minnesota Gophers: 5 Things to know

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The week we all look forward to is here. It’s Axe Week, otherwise known as that week where Wisconsin puts a X in the win column in permanent marker every year. 

Wisconsin has owned the Golden Rodents through some of the best, worst and definitely mediocre seasons that Eastern Dakota has ever seen for nearly two decades now. The win streak in the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe has been a fixture in Madison for 14 straight years and there’s no sign of that stopping heading in to 2018’s matchup either. 

So, what should you know about the annual butt-kicking of that safety school to the West? Let’s look at the 5 things to know about this game.  

5: The Eastern Dakota Golden Rodents Suck

Nothing more needs to be said about a 14-year streak of dominance. The Golden Rodents of Eastern Dakota University sssssuuuuuuuuucccccckkkkk.

4: What Colors are the Gophers anyway? 

I’m confused, are their colors black and white? Perhaps Maroon and Gold plated? Maybe Maroon and Yellow? What about Gray, White and Gold or Gray, Maroon and Gold? What’s next….pink, purple and teal? Ohhh, I know, they’ll maybe pay homage to rowing a boat with uniforms that are wood-grained and tan in nature…that’ll do the trick.

Who do they think they are? Oregon of the Midwest? I mean, please get an identity, make it work and stop with all the gimmicks. If gimmicks are the only thing you’re selling it’ll be fleeting and its no wonder why you lose to us every year. You’re too worried about how you’ll look instead of actually game planning for the damn game. It has to be exhausting deciding between about 100 color combinations and all those helmet decals that have to be applied. 

I’ll take vanilla uniforms and beating our rivals on an annual basis any day of the week. 

3: Most Rodent Players Don’t Even Know What the Axe Actually Looks Like

No, it’s true…the streak is so long that the players who are playing in this game have literally no memory of the Rodents winning the Axe. Just take Blake Cashman for example. 

“It’s everything,” Cashman told the Minneapolis Star Tribune this week. “It’s what everybody talks about all year. 

“I can’t even remember the Gophers ever having it, I’m so young.”

The only time they’ve seen it, if at all, is when the Badgers annually chop down the goalposts following their rightful victory. Let that sink in before you realize you won’t see it again this year except for in the hands of a victorious Badger. 

2: No Bowling for You

The Rodents have to win this game to finally get to a bowl game under P.J. Fleck, the snake-oil salesman-in-chief. For a guy who talked a big game, his results haven’t followed. 

Eastern Dakota didn’t go bowling last season, this after inserting Fleck in to a team that made five straight bowl game appearances without the “Row the Boat” master. 

What does two seasons of not winning do to this program? Well, the empty stands at that thing they call a stadium in Minneapolis suggests the natives of Eastern Dakota aren’t buying what Fleck is selling and won’t return until they put a winner on the field…fair weather fans as they are. 

Perhaps Fleck’s writing a check with his mouth that his team can’t cash? Perhaps it’s better to stop making public spectacles and just go about your business of building a program & talking when you finally have something to be proud of on the field…just a thought. 

1: The Axe Will Stay Home

Come on now, let’s be real here…The Rodents aren’t good, Wisconsin has the best running back in the country and at least a competent enough defense to keep the Rodents in check. 

Wisconsin wins this game and completes a 15-year streak in winning the Axe. Besides, do you think this group of seniors is going to be the one that will let victory fade? After all that’s happened this season, you can bet your bottom dollar the Badgers seniors will do anything to keep this trophy home in Madison. 

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